Category Archives: Book Reviews

Glitter and Gloss – A Review

Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra

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It’s been a crazy month and my reading as well as writing have had to take a back seat. However I did manage to finish this sweet little book Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. If you saw my Teaser Tuesday you’ll have a got a little bit of an idea about it.

But first, as always, here’s the story.

The book is about Misha (named after Misha the bear mascot at Moscow Olympics) a 20 something make-up artist. At a fashion event she rescues a hapless but very handsome man from the clutches of a rather predatory model and that’s the start of the Akshay-Misha love story. Enter Didi, Akshay’s elder sister, and it hits a roadblock. But then what’s a love story without a few roadblocks and some misunderstandings?

The review

I loved Misha right from the opening pages. That’s a great place to begin to like a book. She has an independent streak that I loved. Yet she’s a little scatterbrained and suffers from an acute foot-in-the-mouth syndrome and that made her even more loveable. Finally, her penchant for being a knight in shining armour won me over completely. Akshay is delectable – chiselled cheekbones, big muscles, flat abs and ton-loads of money. There are host of other delightful characters in the book too – Sammy – Misha’s house-husband flatmate, her friend Poulomi (This is how Misha describes her: “She may sound KKK—Khoonkhar, Khatarnak, Khadoos—but Poulomi does have my best interests at heart”) and her bohemian mother.

The writing is a mix of Hindi and English with the most witty one-liners thrown in. They jump at you suddenly, changing the mood, making you smile, even laugh out loud. Sample this:
“Our fingers touch and thousand volts of electricity course through me. The current of attraction is so strong, I half expect my hair to stand up in spikes.”
and another one after the first kiss:
My eyes fly open as I go from Sensuous Cinderella to Piddu Pumpkin.
At that final image the romance flies out of the window and one just ends up laughing. That was the most endearing thing about the writing. It reminded me a bit of Anuja Chauhan. However, this has a younger feel to it. Caution: If you’re a purist it might not quite work for you. In fact some bits stuck out uncomfortably for me too.

For instance ‘din din’ for dinner (pretty juvenile, I thought)
How much I heart Sam and Poul‘.  (Heart?)
‘It’s awesome and amaze’. (Do young people actually talk like this?)

However, I’m willing to forgive much for the laughs the book brought me. I just might be adopting some of the lingo myself like DDGGMM – that would be DullDepressedGlumGloomyMoroseMopey.

The combination of romance and humour never fails to charm me. And this one was just that.

My one real complaint would be that the story was overly simplistic as was the solution. It was way too predictable. I would have liked some more twists and turns, some more melodrama. Another fifty or hundred pages and I would have been happy.

Here’s a delightful quote from the book:

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My thoughts: If you’re looking for a simple, fast paced, uncomplicated love story that makes you laugh, this is your book.

Wonder – A Review

Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Let me begin with a warning – this is going to be a rather long post (by my standards).The book more than deserves it. This one came highly recommended. It has won several awards too and I’d planned to read it with the kids. One chapter down the line I decided I couldn’t possibly read just a few pages a day and ended up finishing it on my own.

Meanwhile, our nightly read aloud sessions continued and we managed to complete it only recently.

Here’s the story

Wonder tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy August Pullman (Auggie) born with extreme facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled till grade four due to the various surgeries that he has to go through. In grade five his parents decide to send him to a private school, Beecher Prep. Auggie considers himself a normal kid but his physical appearance sets him apart. He desperately wants to blend in but that cannot happen. He knows, dreads and hates the constant stares, the looks of revulsion, or worse, those of pity.

The book talks about his experiences in the school, his attempts to fit in and find friendship.

Now for the review

Wonder is not only a fantastic story, it is told ever so beautifully as well. The story unravels through multiple point of views. This makes it very interesting because it shows us glimpses of Auggie through the eyes of various characters and how they learn to love and accept him over time. The book is broken up into short two-three page chapters which makes it perfect if you’re taking turns reading it with your tween. Almost every bit of it is a veritable quotable quote, full of simple wisdom.

Auggie’s character is wonderfully etched – smart, funny, sweet and kind. He is well aware of the way he looks and even finds it in his heart to joke about it, to the unexpected delight of his new friends. In the end what stands out is his courage and kindness.  Palacio’s ten-year-old voice is very believable.

The supporting characters are delightful too. Each of them – Auggie’s sister Via, their parents, Via’s friend Miranda, her boyfriend, Justin  – all of them have a back-story which makes them real and relatable. That is perhaps why the book has spawned a number of ‘Companion Novels’ and turned almost into a series. (Auggie and Me, Pluto, Shingaling, 365 Days of Wonder)
Via was my absolute favourite. I would love to read a spin-off from her perspective. What would it be like to live with a brother who takes up almost all of your parents’ time,  energy and attention? – that would be interesting.
I loved the parents too. They taught me some valuable lessons through the book.

I wondered whether I (and the kids) would relate to an American school setting. Interestingly we weren’t distracted by it at all. Not for one moment did our focus shift from the core idea of the book – the challenges of a ten-year old kid, which are quite the same the world over. The children identified with Auggie, with his struggle to fit in, with the peer pressure, how cliques are formed to include some and exclude the others. Palacio got the middle-school friendship dynamic bang on. She talks about how cruel the kids can be and how very kind as well.

I was apprehensive that it would turn out to be a sad heavy read given the subject but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course it has those heart-breaking moments when you wish you could reach out and hug Auggie and Via and their parents, and to tell them that all would be well. But then there are also happy, fun moments when your heart swells and you cannot but smile. That’s the magic of Wonder – it makes you cry and laugh by turns. And in the end leaves you with a full heart, raising a cheer to Auggie and his warm circle of family and friends.

The Julian Chapter: The edition I read came with an additional Julian’s Chapter – the story told from the point of view of the lead antagonist. I do believe, strongly that children aren’t born cruel or mean and that their parents often are part of the reason they become that way. Yet to me that chapter seemed like Palacio was making excuses for Julian’s behaviour – his bullying and his meanness – in a forced attempt to justify him. I have to admit though that it worked for the kids. It helped them see where his bad-behaviour came from. And in the end it served to make them less judgemental even about the not-so-nice kids, so I cannot really complain.

Another flip side – if I have to find one – is that the book might seem simplistic, the characters too good, too sensible. But sometimes you need to read a feel-good book simply because it leaves you with a happy feeling. Even more importantly, you need to get your tween to read this one.

Last thought: Put aside all cynicism and pick up this ever so fabulous read.

Love Muffin and Chai Latte – A Review

Love Muffin and Chai Latte by Anya Wylde

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When Shakespeare said what’s in a name he couldn’t have been more wrong. I picked up this one based solely on the name. Love Muffin and Chai Latte sounded a delicious mix of East and West. The blurb confirmed what I thought about it – the story of an American girl who moves to the England and then to India, written by a non-Indian author – this I wanted to read.

The Story

This is the tale of Tabitha (Tabby) who flees to England when her sister marries her (Tabby’s) fiancé. There, she meets Chris. Within a year of dating each other Chris proposes to her. She’s taken completely by surprise but agrees to marry him because, well because she’s been thrown out by her landlord, is jobless and of course because she quite likes Chris and he convinces her it wasn’t a ‘pity proposal’ at all, he was going to ask her anyway. Tabby is aware Chris is Indian but doesn’t know exactly how much of an Indian he is. Alarm bells should have rung when she discovers Chris is actually Mr Chandramohan Mansukhani and has a large extended family in England and India and also that she would have to win the approval of his grandfather, the arrogant inflexible Daaji to get married to him. Lulled into a sense of security by Chris and his beautiful sister Maya, she travels to India to  meet the family and that’s where the fun begins.

The Review

This is a book you’re either going to hate or love. I loved it. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let me try to warn you off because I believe in giving out the bad stuff first.

The story is full of exaggerated stereotypes – there’s a chappal babaji who blesses people with a tap of a slipper, auntie ji’s of all shapes and hues, slimy men and plotting women and a hunk of a dream hero – who’s upright, brave, famous and a rather unbelievable philanthropist.

The situations Tabby gets into range from clichéd to unbelievably ludicrous. There are kidnappings, blackmailing, shooting, narrow escapes and a typical airport scene, yeah right out of a Bollywood film. Oh and there are some poo jokes too.

There I’ve put it all out.

However, all of that worked for me. The mix of family and friendship and romance with a very generous dose of humour made it a perfect light read. It had plenty of laugh aloud moments with tongue-in-cheek one-liners. Without giving out spoilers I’ll say certain situations had the most unexpected, unbelievable riotous endings. Some parts, like the description of the aarti at the Ganges, touched me just the way they affected Tabby. She proves to be likeable enough heroine – with her loneliness and complexes and her affinity to put her foot continuously in her mouth, she’s fun.

This one is a Bollywood masala script. Read it without going into the hows and the whys and you’ll love it. Analyse it and it’ll fall flat.

Last thought: A crazy comedy that deserves to be read.

An Unsuitable Boy – A Review

An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar (With Poonam Saxena)

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I picked up An Unsuitable Boy with some amount of excitement because I like Karan Johar. There, I said it. I like Karan Johar and I like his films, well most of them. But more than his films I like his off-screen persona. His interviews are fun to watch. He’s funny, warm and articulate and completely at ease with himself.

If someone can speak well, I figured, he could write well too. And I wasn’t too wrong.

What I loved about the book

In An Unsuitable Boy Karan Johar talks to you through the pages. The writing flows like an easy conversation, simple, honest and straightforward.

He talks about his rather difficult childhood, his problems with weight, his introverted personality, his effeminate mannerisms, his not being good at anything and then of the turnaround – how he made friends, found his feet and finally, quite by chance, found his calling in life. I felt for him – the pressure of being not good enough despite belonging to a privileged family – I got that.

I’d already heard a lot of his story in bits and pieces through his numerous interviews and talk shows. Reading it in the pages of the book was like revisiting his childhood with him. He goes on to talk about his entry into the world of films. We get a huge slice of behind the scene action during the making of Dilwale Dulhaniya, Kuchh Kuchh, K3G and other Dharma films right from how the story was conceptualised, the dialogues written and the costumes organised. That was quite a treat.

He makes for compelling reading, touching just the right chords with his self-effacing story-telling and his honesty.

And then the second half happened…

The conversation turns into a ramble, self-effacing turns self-congratulatory and the story-telling turns tedious, self-indulgent and oh so repetitive.

Over and over again he talks of Aditya Chopra, Shah Rukh, Niranjan, Apoorva and a host  of other friends. I understand they were instrumental in his journey and he wants to give them credit, but that’s where the book loses its connect and becomes one long haze that means little to the reader.

He goes on to comment on love and sex as also the future of Bollywood – all of that remains a monotonous commentary. The narration too gets haphazard and clumsy. I am left wondering why on earth didn’t the editor do anything about it?

However, despite the shortcomings the one thing that stands out is the complete honesty with which he has penned this memoir laying bare his most secret demons.

 

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Told you he was honest!

Last word: If you like Karan Johar you should give this a shot.

The Girl With Seven Names – A review

The Girl With Seven Names – A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee

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North Korea as a country has intrigued me for some time. I heard about books like Camp 15 but was apprehensive to take them up because I find them too disturbing. I couldn’t sleep for days after I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas.

The Girl With Seven Names is the story of a young girl Hyeonseo told in the first person and it proved just right. It is a simple read, fast paced and easy and gives a first hand description of life in North Korea without getting too grim.

The story

Interestingly, it isn’t a passion for freedom or poverty that pushes Hyeonseo to run away from her country. She comes from a relatively privileged family that has managed to stay on the right side of the regime for the longest time. She lives in a border town  on the banks of River Yalu with China just across it. In winters when the river froze over, all one had to do was avoid the border security guards of both countries and walk across it and one could be in a different country.

Hyeonseo love for adventure prompts her to take that walk. With a month to go for her 18th birthday she decides to secretly visit her uncle in China. Unfortunately her disappearance is discovered and she cannot come back. Leaving the country in North Korea is counted as defection and if caught, brings severe repercussions not just for the defector but also for his/her entire family.

The book then on traces her struggle to establish a legal identity and make a home for herself first in China and then in South Korea, living and travelling without an ID or a passport. Hyeonseo starts out as a rather naive, impulsive, headstrong girl. The book traces her growth into a smart and courageous woman as she struggles to find her feet and keep her family together.

What I loved about the book

North Korea sounds straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to imagine that this is not fiction nor from an era long gone. The book is set in the eighties and the nineties.

The leaders wield absolute power. The complete insulation of people from the outside world, the constant threat from the government, the constant worry of being informed upon by neighbours and teachers, the entire education system pandering to the government including changing the history of the country – All of this is hard to believe.

And yet how would anyone who isn’t exposed to any other way, even know that this wasn’t the only way? And so people accept it, get used to it and even miss it when they’re out of the country. Her mom and brother are reluctant to leave even when they have the option to do so.

Hyeonseo also talks of the challenges of settling down in a capitalist country which is  something I had never thought of. The book turned out to be a very enlightening read. It talks about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

Last thought: I’d say go for it.

Birds of Prey – A review

Birds of Prey by Archana Sarat

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Let me begin by saying that the deep dark world of psychological thrillers is not one I would like to delve into. However, and this is a disclaimer, I had to pick up Birds of Prey because it is authored by a friend. That said I have been completely impartial in my review, or so I hope. There is definitely something about the trailer and the cover – chilling yet intriguing – that makes one want to read this book.

The story

When a number of men from affluent families are abducted in quick succession police suspect a serial offender is on the prowl. Ex ACP Anton Pinto is pulled out from his peaceful life of retirement in Goa to the Mumbai crime scene to help track the killer. In keeping with his promise to his wife, Anton tries not to get involved in the case even while providing insights to the investigating team. However when yet another man is abducted he rescinds his promise and throws himself into the chase, trawling through schools and old age homes in search of his quarry. Then, the inevitable happens as the hunter becomes the prey and Anton finds himself trapped in a well that seems impossible to escape from.

That’s all I am going to tell you here. Go read the book for more.

What I liked

I read the book in a single sitting. It’s that gripping. You may figure out the ‘who’ early on but the ‘how’ keeps you turning the pages. It’s a simple enough plot but I liked the way the story unfolded, bit by bit, clue by clue – just how a thriller should.

I need to like or at least understand the characters to like a book. Birds of Prey did that for me. Anton is very likeable, so is his wife Sheeba and most of Anton’s colleagues even though they only have minor parts to play. In fact, the characters have been drawn out with clarity and consistency.

The story comes from multiple perspectives, each of them convincing, making you struggle to take sides. So while you understand Anton’s itch to get back to crime solving you also understand his wife’s reservations; while you of course root for Anton, you feel for the antagonist too, who is far from all black.

Also, compared with the Indian authors’ works on offer, the editing was decent enough, not perfect, but nothing jumps out at you or takes away from the flow of the story, for that I am grateful.

What I didn’t like

Some developments, I felt, came a bit too easily – some revelations during Anton’s  investigation as well as the final escape in the last few pages.

My one major issue with the book would be the description of sexual violence, which was graphic and gory. I could feel the dread in me grow as the chilling bits approached and details of abuse became only too real. I wouldn’t recommend it to young adults or the faint-hearted. But I guess that’s the way psychological thrillers are meant to be, so this is just me. I did say in the beginning that this isn’t my favourite genre.

Oh and the end is tailor-made for a sequel, so that’s something to look forward to.

Last thought: Pick it up if you are intrigued by edge-of-the-seat thrillers that can result from the workings of twisted minds (and I mean that of the antagonist here!).

Rita Just Wants to be Thin – A Review

Rita Just Wants to be Thin by Mary W Walters

I stumbled upon this book at bookbub.com. It caught my eye obviously because of its title. Perhaps because I started off with hardly any expectations, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

(If you don’t know what bookbub.com is do go take a look. It’s a resource for ebooks, either at no cost at all or at a very minimal cost. If you’re a reader of light romantic fiction this is an absolute goldmine)

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The story

28-year-old Rita was young, pretty and thin before she got married. Marriage brought her a husband, Graham and two rather unpleasant step-children. She also has to contend with Graham’s dead and quite perfect first wife who she can never measure up to. Graham is a work-from-home journalist. He isn’t really a bad sort but is self-centred and inhumanly insensitive.

Overworked, undervalued, exhausted and lonely, Rita finds solace in food. As the pounds pile up she begins to hate the way she looks. She tries out new diets regularly but fails to stick to any of them, fuelling rounds of self-loathing and more bingeing.

Things come to a head when her mother-in-law comes to stay with her until finally one day she decides to walk out.

What I liked

Rita’s struggle with weight is something common to a lot of women — the constant awareness of one’s weight, the acute self-consciousness due to it, the self-loathing that comes after a binge and yet not being able to find the will-power to do anything about it — all of that made the book extremely relatable.

Later the rush Rita gets when she begins to walk, the way she learns to disengage herself from her situation and make time for herself – I loved all of that.

Also, her story isn’t just about her fight with fat. It is about how she learns to assert herself, how she decides that she will be the one in charge of her life. It is a reminder for anyone stuck in a rut that they alone can change their lives.

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That quote is only too true

What I didn’t like

Rita’s struggle is so long that it gets tedious and depressing. The turnaround comes after a long long time.

The book ends right at the beginning of Rita’s new journey. I would have liked an epilogue, at least. I will always have the niggling feeling that she slipped back to her old ways and that takes away from the perfect ending.

Last thought: Some books aren’t great literature but you like them because you find you can connect with them. This was one of those for me.